Dr Alex Linley: Think differently how to embrace neurodiversity at work

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Dr Alex Linley: Think differently how to embrace neurodiversity at work

It’s becoming more widely recognised that many of us are neurodiverse; around one in seven of the UK population, according to a report from ACAS. In practice, neurodiversity is a term used to describe those who ‘think differently’. This could be due to ADHD, autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia, all of which come under the umbrella of neurodiversity.

Someone who is neurodiverse may have areas of real strength and differentiation in their thinking, and other areas where they have developed coping mechanisms or approaches to deal with things that they find more difficult.

These particular strengths and specific coping mechanisms mean neurodiverse people can bring different perspectives to situations – perspectives that might have been missed by others. It also means there may be tasks and roles to which they are incredibly well-suited, and others that may not be right for them.

Many years ago I worked with a man who had Asperger syndrome and who was absolutely incredible at consistent data entry. He would work through a chart of numbers that needed to be input without making a single error in transposing them. However, if something happened outside this specific expertise, he could find that he didn’t know what to do and so would need help to get back on track. No-one else could do what he did as well as he did it but, equally, other people were great at doing other things.

This was my earliest exposure to what has become known as strengths-based management, focusing on enabling people to do what they can do and love to do, while helping them avoid the need to spend a lot of time doing things they aren’t energised by (or can’t do). It’s something we have practised at Capp for over a decade.

While diversity is often celebrated and promoted in relation to gender, ethnic background, religion or sexual orientation (and rightly so), it is important to recognise the power of the differences that we cannot see, but which can be some of the most profound in relation to developing true diversity of thought and perspective.

The benefits of embracing neurodiversity include creating a workforce that is more reflective and inclusive of the population as a whole and hence is better reflective of your customers. Embracing neurodiversity is also an incredibly powerful way of enabling real diversity of thought and perspective in your organisation. Employing people who genuinely ‘think differently’ is guaranteed to bring new perspectives and insights. It allows companies to be more innovative, to spot value and solutions others may have missed, and make better decisions as a result.

To truly embrace neurodiversity, organisations need to consider both their recruitment practices and how they enable neurodiverse people to perform at their best once they are in the role.

Many recruitment processes do not support neurodiverse candidates. A study carried out by Westminster AchieveAbility Commission for Dyslexia and Neurodivergence found that 88% of neuroatypical candidates felt discouraged from applying for a job. Of those who did apply, 52% felt discriminated against during the selection process.

Good practices for enabling successful applications from neurodiverse candidates include:

 

  • Using multiple ways to assess for what you are looking for, so people have more than one opportunity and more than one way to shine and show what they can do at their best.   
  • Avoiding hypothetical, abstract ‘what if’ questions that may pose more of a difficulty for more concrete thinkers.
  • Holding interviews one-on-one rather than with an interview panel, if this is what someone would prefer. 
  • Providing the reasonable adjustments that a person may need to help them perform at their best – allowing longer breaks, doing things in a different order, or demonstrating care and empathy as you interview them. 
  • Allowing people a later time for an interview so they have more time to arrange travel. 
  • Using tasks or activities that are highly job-relevant, as these provide the best opportunity for a realistic job preview that will enable any candidate (not just a neurodiverse one) to showcase their ability to do the job.
  • Ensuring that any technology used as part of the recruitment process can accommodate reasonable adjustments that may be needed by a neurodiverse candidate. This may include screen readers, text-to-voice automation, or allowances for additional time in timed assessments. Even better, consider whether you need to use timed assessments at all.  
  • Using assessments designed with inbuilt inclusion from the start.

 

This is what Accenture did in their graduate recruitment work with Capp, leading one candidate to say: “As a mildly dyslexic individual, I have always struggled to get my foot in the door, especially when under strict time pressures. This new testing platform has allowed me to demonstrate both my analytical and soft skills, which are tested in a way applicable for the requirements of the job. I’d like to thank Accenture for providing me with a greater prospect of success and opportunity by adjusting testing methods.”

Once employed, good practices for enabling neurodiverse staff to perform at their best include: 

  • Using strengths-based practices to get the best from everyone, including those who are neurodiverse. This means focusing on what people can do and love to do, and aligning these abilities to what the company is trying to achieve.   
  • Allowing people to work from home if possible, or to vary the hours they are in the office.    Being flexible about who works on what, and how they do it. As long as everyone is clear on what needs to be delivered, a focus on outcomes, rather than the process to get there, will be liberating.    
  • Developing a Neurodiversity Policy, setting out the company’s position in relation to neurodiversity, how you support people who are neurodiverse, how this plays through into your recruitment, performance management and progression practices, and why this is important to you. A CIPD survey found that 72% of employers didn’t have a Neurodiversity Policy, so you can get ahead of the game by developing and deploying one.

 

As neurodiversity becomes more widely recognised and understood, there is no excuse for being left behind. Instead, there are real opportunities for forward-thinking employers who want to embrace and celebrate the value that people who ‘think differently’ can bring.

Interested in eliminating bias in the workplace? We recommend the Unconscious Bias in the Workplace training day.

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About Alex Linley

Dr Alex Linley is the CEO and Co-Founder of Capp and its international brand Cappfinity. The company is a leading provider of assessment and development solutions, with more than 300 clients worldwide and offices in the U.S, U.K and Australia. A world authority in the field of Positive Psychology, Dr. Linley’s proprietary strengths methodology is the foundation of the company’s offering.
Prior to co-founding Capp Dr. Linley was a distinguished positive psychologist and noted academic. He has authored and edited eight books and published over 150 articles and book chapters. He was Visiting Professor in Psychology at the University of Leicester and Bucks New University and holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Warwick.
Dr. Linley co-founded Capp with a clear purpose: to bring together human insight, data and technology to ‘strengthen the world’ by empowering companies to make informed talent decisions and enabling individuals to thrive in their careers through strengths-based assessment and development.

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